Last month, first-time author Lauren Hough received some good news from an editor at her publishing house: her collection of essays, “Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing,” published last year, was to be nominated for a Lambda Literary Prize in the lesbian memoir category.
The nomination seemed to cap off a remarkable debut album, which won critical acclaim and spent two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The book, described by its publisher as interrogating “our notions of ecstasy, homosexuality and what it means to live freely”, draws heavily from Hough’s life experiences, including as a lesbian in the Army. air during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era. critical for NPR compared his talent as a portrait painter to that of “one of those sketch artists who can sketch four lines and suddenly you see your face in them.”
But Hough said in an interview on Monday that an editor had recently informed her that the nomination had been withdrawn, following a social media dust-off in which Hough defended, at times vehemently, a novel about appear from author Sandra Newman, a friend of hers, criticism that she was transphobic.
The novel “The Men,” due for publication in June, describes a scenario in which “all people with a Y chromosome mysteriously disappear from the face of the earth.” according to Newman’s editor. Hough, who said she’s read “The Men,” wrote on Substack that she told critics “to read the book before condemning it.”
Lambda Literary, which has run the Lammys for more than 30 years, confirmed Hough was removed from competition for the award.
“In a series of now-deleted tweets, Lauren Hough showed what we thought was troubling hostility towards transgender critics and trans allies and used her substantial platform – in part because of her excellent book – to stand up. engage in harmful ways with readers and critics,” Cleopatra Acquaye and Maxwell Scales, the acting co-executive directors of Lambda Literary, said in a joint statement Monday. “As an LGBTQ organization, we cannot knowingly reward people who show disdain and disrespect for the autonomy of an entire segment of the community we are committed to supporting.”
Hough said Monday she couldn’t remember if she deleted any tweets and denied that any of her tweets were transphobic. Lambda did not provide examples of the messages they were most critical of. The Times did not review any deleted tweets.
In a text message, Hough argued that Lambda Literary was trying to regulate speech around LGBTQ literature. “The strength of Lambda Literary, and the LGBTQ movement as a whole, was to convince people to look beyond the cover, to read beyond the title, even if that title includes the words ‘Y-chromosome’ – we asked them to read the book,” she said.
She added, “I expected more from Lambda than character assassination by vague accusations based on rumors on Twitter, for telling people – not a group, but people – to read the book.”
Acquaye and Scales said in a joint interview that an independent jury and Lambda Literary both contributed to the decision to remove the book from competition, and said the organization took no position on “The Men.” .
Following Hough’s posts, Scales said in the interview, “a lot of trans people felt like they couldn’t, they weren’t allowed to be in these conversations.” Acquaye said the posts “didn’t uplift other queer people and those voices.”
In its sub-stack newsletterHough said she discussed “The Men” with Newman, including “how to make the book acknowledge the reality of transgender people.”
“Other books that started from this premise – all men disappear – erased the existence of trans people, and it was important to her not to do that, to be as sensitive as possible,” Hough wrote. . “So when I saw people assuming that simple idea was the entire plot, I told them to read the book before assuming the worst.”
For this, she wrote, she was labeled TERF, or Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist — which she denied.
(Previous books with similar storylines, eliminating or separating genre “were written before there was much focus on anything beyond a genre binary,” said Brian Attebery, professor in English at Idaho State University who has written about gender in science fiction.)
Hough lamented that Twitter users had so harshly criticized a book they hadn’t read.
“They call it ‘call culture’,” she wrote on Substack, “because bullying is wrong unless your target is someone you don’t like, for reasons social justice reasons, of course.”
In an email Monday, Newman declined to comment on her upcoming book but confirmed Hough’s account of their friendship. “He is also a person of great integrity and decency,” Newman added. “And she’s an incredible writer whose book deserves all the awards.”